Older Americans remember that in the dim past we frequently made use of the rather poetic antique expression “fortnight” referring to a period of two weeks. Inside the Church in the United States, it recently came back into use over the last two or three months. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sponsored a series of public activities for a two-week period ending July 4th. The purpose of the program was to warn the Catholics of America, and all Americans for that matter, that there were tremendous threats to religious freedom. Some of the material distributed seemed to indicate that we were holding on that freedom with white knuckled grips.
The fortnight has come and gone and it is hard to say what kind of influence it has had in the differences between the U.S. Bishops and the Obama Administration regarding the all too narrow definition of exempt religious institutions. Time will tell as to whether or not the fortnight had any influence at all in this country. If you are worried as to whether or not you will be allowed to go to the church of your choice next Sunday, put that concern behind you. Religious freedom is alive and well in the United States. However, is that true across the world? By no means.
In a growing number of other places around the world, there is decidedly a literal war on religion underway and Christians are often its primary targets. We are lucky to have the Rome based Asian News Service which keeps track of atrocities carried out in the name of religion and they document that the vast majority of these crimes are against Christians, making Christianity the most persecuted religious community on the planet. We need to become more aware of this unjust reality.
Congratulations to the U.S. bishops and the Catholic University of America. They have joined with Catholic Relief Services to plan a conference entitled “International Religious Freedom: An Imperative for Peace and the Common Good” to be held in Washington on September 12th. A concrete plan of action needs to come out of this that will sensitize Christians to the dangers that they face across the world and provide models for action to assist and protect men and women who are suffering because they believe in Jesus of Nazareth.